ISET Economist Blog

A blog about economics in the South Caucasus.

Is winter tourism in Kyrgyz Republic able to reach international level?

Izat Berenaliev, research fellow of the National Institute for Strategic Studies of Kyrgyzstan, analysed whether Kyrgyzstan's winter tourism sector can reach international level in his article "Is winter tourism in the Kyrgyz Republic able to reach international level? published on the website of the NISS

Current situation

In recent years, winter tourism in Kyrgyzstan develops rapidly and becomes much more popular. There are more than 6 ski resorts with chair lifts and several small bases with regular lifts in Kyrgyzstan. Besides them, there are a lot of building projects for new, modern ski resorts in various regions of Kyrgyzstan. Mountain territory of Kyrgyzstan provides comprehensive opportunities for their development. The country’s landscape enables to reach height level difference from 2000 to 4500 meters under proper and ample planning. At the same time, it is able to build ski resorts with various ski run alternatives for both beginners and professionals.

Winter tourism, as well as summer tourism has two features: it depends on weather conditions and has seasonal nature. Due to vacation period in wintertime is much shorter, major part of customers goes to mountains only at weekends. Ski resorts are loaded in weekends, but freer during the workweek.

Today, market supply of winter tourism has sufficient domestic demand only at weekends, i.e. if to build more a few large resorts, there is no guarantee of they will be so well attended by domestic tourists. It is required to work on two ways: internal and external directions for growth of demand. In internal market, ski resorts have to increase attendance during the workweek (except day offs). The new product must be designed for youth and students. Group trips should be arranged. Ski resorts can negotiate with universities, departments and give them certain days with best prices and transportation. Thus, occupancy of bases will increase, young people will get familiarize new type of sports, learn it and later, they will visit ski bases by themselves. So it is an advertisement in some measure for ski resorts.

One more not the least segment includes school students, because today’s student, who successfully mastered skis, is potential customer after 10 years. If we want to develop winter tourism for long term too, now we have to prepare our future customers. Every school is able to organize at least two trips to mountains by all means and negotiate with ski resort, thus their occupancy will significantly increase. As abovementioned, ski resorts are badly packed during the workweek, so they can offer reduced prices for lifts to train and prepare future customers. Most important thing is health of young generation, which will begin to be keen on sports and active rest.

Local population-related troubles (ZiL ski base)

Ski resorts create a lot of jobsites. Local residents begin to actively work in touristic business, but this point of contact for private business, tourists and local population is able to create some difficulties. Recently, the ZiL ski base has closed, its administration was discontented because of frequent interferences of local population. Akbar Ryskulov, Director of ZiL ski base: “Local residents don’t allow us to work; they don’t understand it is private territory. They always demand from us to leave this place. They want to freely graze their cattle. They threaten us with blocking the road. They want to always use services of ski base free of charge, demand for themselves all kinds of preferences, money for village development. We met them halfway and handed many of them free ski-passes in order to they will use base services free of charge. We rehabilitated the road. But many of them still want more. They resell ski-passes, refuse to pay for food and bathroom. Moreover, they placed in our territory unauthorized shop for café and skiing equipment rental”. After closure of base, 26 employees from village lost their jobs.

Similar conflicts have negative effect on investment climate of the country. Foreign investors will abandon their plans to invest under such risk of local population’s interferences. Local residents must understand ski base creates jobs, and its operation doesn’t oblige them to pay something or give preferences only because ski base is located near place of residence of villagers. But at the same time, tourism is a business sector, where it is not possible to ignore local population. It should be involved as employees and added into staff. Population should be integrated to touristic business within legal boundaries, in order to all parties follow generally accepted rules. It should be noted that similar conflicts took place on the shores of Ysyk-Köl Lake too, during summer touristic season.

Access to international level

Winter recreation on alpine skis is popular amongst Kyrgyzstanis: 80 % of customers of ski resorts are residents of Kyrgyzstan, 20 % - Russia and Kazakhstan. Ski bases should design special touristic product for foreign market. Mainly, they have to keep investing to skiing infrastructure, but especially it is required to improve hotel business in ski resorts, this product is virtually not developed inside of ski base territories. It may be said we have ski bases only for daytime skiing, but no ski resorts allowing full value recreation. For example, in France, tourist goes to ski base to spend 1 euro for lift, at the same time he/she spends 7 extra euros for other associated services, like hotel accommodation, meals, entertainment, evening programs, etc. Thus, expenses for lifts are is only 1/8 from all touristic product package. Today, ski resorts of Kyrgyzstan are investing to the most important component – lifts. With time ski bases has to set goal to create conditions for tourists will be able to stay at least one week at the ski resort hotels. For this, it is necessary to provide wide range of services: vast space for skiing domain, comfortable hotel rooms, delicious food and main thing – to organize leisure-time and evening entertainment programs. Such service would meet requirements of foreign tourists, i.e. tourists from Russia and Kazakhstan would be able to come to Kyrgyz ski resorts for one week. There is no sense to arrive only for several days or day offs, when ski base will be occupied by local tourists, moreover, travel expenses do not worth these costs. Ski bases could sell all services package for one price, in one package, one all-inclusive price for one week trip.

Let’s compare summer beach tourism. Internal tourists visit lake at weekends, but foreign tourists are arriving for longer time and with beforehand bought vouchers. Infrastructure allows them to enjoy summer holidays for longer time. Amount of wintertime tourists should reach the amount of summertime tourists. If there will work 30-40 Kyrgyz ski resorts, we would say Kyrgyzstan has risen to international level.

Besides, there is no way to ignore so promising and close market with growing purchasing power, like Kazakhstan. If the level and quality of services in ski resorts will be improved, it is able to be competitive destination for winter tourism. Also, it is very necessary to not forget about environment. National Strategy for Sustainable Development of Kyrgyz Republic provides careful attitude for environment. We have to design the Strategy for development of winter tourism. Nature was and is first feature, at the same time competitive advantage of Kyrgyzstan in tourism market. Magnificent mountain landscape, purest alpine air, stable snow cover and future well-developed touristic infrastructure and effective marketing policy will make Kyrgyzstan regional center of winter tourism.

The article was originally produced for and published by the National Institute for Strategic Studies of the Kyrgyz Republic (NISS). 

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Wednesday, 24 February 2021

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